Zlatan Ibrahimovic's injury may be good news for his MLS suitors

Graham Ruthven
Zlatan Ibrahimovic will be 36 later this year - will he be able to recover from a serious injury at that age? Photograph: Martin Rickett/PA

The sight of a player suffering suffering a season-ending injury is always a desperate one, particularly when the player in question is of Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s quality. Indeed, the Swede will take no further part in the 2016-17 campaign, picking up a cruciate knee ligament injury that could sideline him until 2018. But as Manchester United mourned the loss of their top scorer, those in Major League Soccer were contemplating what it meant for them.

Ibrahimovic has been heavily linked with a move Stateside, with recent reports claiming Los Angeles FC have offered the striker a deal worth $6.4m a year in an effort to tempt him across the Atlantic. This comes after reports that the LA Galaxy were similarly lining up a move for the Manchester United striker who is out of contract in the summer. The tug of war over Ibrahimovic’s next destination was getting serious just as he suffered a season-ending injury.

So what now? Initial suggestions are that LAFC and the LA Galaxy are still interested in the 35-year-old. In fact, it has been raised that Ibrahimovic’s projected recovery date of January 2018 might give MLS an advantage in luring him away from the Premier League, with Man Utd less likely to offer the striker a contract extension if he is to miss at least half of next season.

But would signing a player recovering from such a serious injury so late in his career be so wise? Ibrahimovic will be 36 at the start of 2018 and will surely play for a few more years, but is there a risk that the trademark swagger may never return? After all, Designated Players are now expected to be much more than shirt shifters. Marketability might be a motivation behind the Galaxy and in particular LAFC’s interest, but they would also require him to deliver on the field.

The success of Bastian Schweinsteiger at the Chicago Fire might prove to Ibrahimovic that MLS is perhaps more forgiving on players with a history of injury issues, although Thierry Henry, who made a point of sitting out games played on artificial turf due to knee troubles, might disagree with that. Not so long ago it seemed almost inevitable that Ibrahimovic would one day pitch up Stateside. But there are a lot of factors to consider than there was a week ago.

Goal of the weekend

Darlington Nagbe against Vancouver. One, two, three, the Portland attacker looked to have bitten off more than he could chew as he dribbled towards the Vancouver penalty area, but then he unleashed a serious strike, finding the back of the net via the underside of the crossbar. A goal of the season contender.

Stat of the weekend

Atlanta United have 14 goals from open play this season, more than any other team in MLS. This illustrates the free-flowing, dynamic attack Tata Martino has built, assembling a side that has so far lived up to the hype. Much was expected of Atlanta and they are delivering, with the 3-1 win over Real Salt Lake just another impressive result for the expansion outfit.

Assorted thoughts

-- This season was always likely to be one of transition for the LA Galaxy. Bruce Arena’s departure, coupled with the exits of Robbie Keane, Steven Gerrard and Landon Donovan meant Galaxy had a lot of gaps to plug ahead of the 2017 campaign, with Curt Onalfo promoted from within to at least preserve some semblance of continuity. Seven games in, it isn’t working out so well.

Of course, any snap judgement of Onalfo would be unfair. There is a lot to be resolved at the Galaxy, with the new boss charged with imposing a new identity on a team that had its heart ripped out at the end of last season. But nonetheless questions are being asked, with the decision to appoint Onalfo coming under scrutiny now that there is hindsight to base an opinion on.

Consider that Onalfo took over as a coach who’d largely failed to make an impression at both Real Salt Lake and DC United. Take into account that it had been seven years since he’d coached at the top level of the North American game. At the time of Arena’s exit the LA Galaxy needed an experienced and shrewd operator to pick things up. Instead they got someone whose most recent achievements were with the LA Galaxy’s reserve team in the USL.

Under Onalfo the Galaxy lack direction, with Sunday’s 3-0 home defeat to the Seattle Sounders compounding their dismal start to the season. The last time the LA Galaxy lost four of their opening six games was 1997. They managed to recover in time to finish second in the Western Conference that year, but there’s a lot to be done at StubHub Center if the Galaxy are to perform a similar resurgence. Keane one labelled Arena “the Alex Ferguson of America”. Sticking with that comparison, Onalfo is quickly becoming David Moyes.
-- The Philadelphia Union needed a big result and with 39 minutes of Saturday’s match against the Montreal Impact played they were well on their way to getting one. A first half blitz had put them 3-0 up, with the Chester club exorcising some early season demons. Then those demons re-appeared.

Montreal hit back from three goals down to claim a 3-3 draw, extending the Union’s winless run to 15 games. What looked like a turning point very quickly became just another indictment of their season so far, with the collapse only piling more pressure on struggling head coach Jim Curtin. Alejandro Bedoya articulated the frustration felt around the Talen Energy Stadium, pointing the finger at the mindset of his team-mates.

“You probably heard some curse words,” Bedoya said after the game. “We’re all men out there. When you step over those white lines, you go to battle, right? That’s what I expected from all our guys … But to give up three goals to Montreal after being up 3-0, man, that’s tough. It’s frustrating.” That’s putting it lightly.

-- For the first time since 2010 Nick Rimando failed to finish a match on Saturday, walking off the field with a hamstring injury after 58 minutes of Real Salt Lake’s 3-1 home defeat to Atlanta United. Previously, this would have been a serious concern for Mike Petke, with the goalkeeper a stalwart of the Utah side. Consider Rimando’s recent form, though, and his absence might not be such a blow.

Indeed, Atlanta’s opening two goals at Rio Tinto Stadium came as a result of poor distribution from Rimando, with the veteran goalkeeper caught out in trying to play out from the back. Ordinarily, one could write off two mistakes in one match as merely a performance to forget, an anomaly, but this wasn’t the first time this season that Rimando has cost RSL dearly.

There was also the howler in the 4-2 defeat to Minnesota United, with Rimando no longer the dependable No1 he has been for so many years. Of course, Rimando will likely recover from the errors he has made this season, such is his quality, but they raise questions over his longevity. At 37, is age finally starting to have an effect on Rimando?

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